Cook in the Moment: Shrimp Madras Curry with Raita

Shrimp Madras Curry with Raita & Naan (c)2012

This week the husband and I celebrated our birthdays – mine on July 10th, and his on July 11th. The two birthdays meld into one big birthday, and it’s great fun to share the festivities with my best friend. He was born and raised in Ireland, and each year I go on a mission to round up his favorite treats from across the pond. The list includes HP Brown Sauce, Tayto crisps (aka potato chips), Guinness beer, blood sausage (still haven’t found a source for that one), and Madras curry powder. The husband loves curry, whether the powder is sprinkled over hot chips (potato fries) or stirred into a stew. He had barely opened his Irish gift box before I snatched the tin of Sun Brand Madras Curry Powder from his hands and headed into the kitchen.

Madras is a type of curry powder named for the city in southern India where it’s made. The aroma of this burnt mustard colored powder is so intense, I could smell it before even opening the tin. A balance of pungent, herbal, earthy, and sweet spices, Madras is one of the hotter curries. It’s a combination of coriander seed, turmeric, dried red and green chillies, cumin seeds, fennel seeds, black pepper, garlic, ginger, fenugreek, cinnamon, cloves, anise, and mustard. Take some time to get to know Madras before you go crazy with it. The spice infuses stews with a slowly building heat that may seem puny at first but will have you sweating by the time your plate is clean.


10 Ways Tuesday: Cucumber

Chilled Cucumber Soup (c)2012

I’ve got creative recipes for cooking with cucumbers during summer:

1.  Chilled Cucumber Soup

Chilled Cucumber Soup makes for the perfect amuse-bouche for a party on a hot summer night. Serve this appetizer in tiny espresso cups as an elegant and refreshing start to the meal. For this no-cook recipe, I peel, seed, and chop 2 pounds of cucumbers, adding them to a blender with 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1 teaspoon sea salt, 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, and 1 1/2 teaspoons finely ground fennel seed. Puree the soup until well combined and smooth in texture, then chill in the fridge for at least an hour before serving. Garnish each serving with a drizzle of good extra-virgin olive oil (makes 6 espresso cups). I like to keep my cucumber soup dairy-free so it can be enjoyed by all.

2.  Sushi

Cucumbers chopped into sticks are often rolled into maki sushi (a sushi roll) along with avocado and seafood. The fresh, grassy taste and crisp texture of the cucumber is a nice contrast against soft and buttery salmon or meaty tuna. Asian cucumbers are small and very crisp, with less water inside than the ones we’re used to here in the U.S. Seek them out at your local Asian market. If you’ve never attempted sushi at home, check out this step-by-step guide by Morimoto. One of my favorite lunches is a light and fresh California Roll with shrimp.


Ingredient of the Week: Cucumber

Kirby Cucumber from the Boulder Farmer's Market (c)2012

“Cool as a cucumber” sounds pretty good right about now, as we approach the hottest days of summer. Cucumbers don’t inspire deep thoughts, which is just fine, since summer heat and an abundance of produce means we would rather be on the patio than cooking over a hot stove. Whether long and thin or short and fat, cucumbers are mostly water inside. They are crisp and grassy-flavored, adding texture and freshness to salads, sandwiches, chilled soups, pickles, and even cocktails!

According to The Produce Bible, there are many varieties of cucumbers. Everyone is friendly with the classic gherkin, a cucumber destined for the pickle jar. They are short, no more than 4 inches in length, have warty skins, and are meant to be pickled whole. The garden cucumber is also known as a slicing cucumber. This stout specimen averages about 8 inches in length, with a thick, green peel and seeds which should be removed before eating, since they are hard to digest. For this reason, many prefer the seedless English cucumber, which is long and slender with a more delicate skin that doesn’t require peeling. Occasionally, you may come across unusual cucumber varieties (like twisty Armenian cucumbers or round cucumbers) at the farmer’s market or specialty grocery store- don’t be afraid to give them a try. A good way to test a new variety out is by adding it to your standby salad.


Cook in the Moment: Apricot Frangipane Tart

Apricot Frangipane Tart (c)2012

My favorite part of a meal shared with friends is that magical moment when the dinner plates have been cleared and the table is littered with empty wine bottles and wrinkled cloth napkins. It’s time for dessert! The husband makes a round of coffees and I dig up a bottle of brandy or maybe a tawny port. The tone of conversation at the table changes as we run out of chit chat. It shifts to talk of dreams, worries, and  plans for the future. We listen and share. Time seems to slow down. Though we’re all tired and full, none of us wants the night to end. I grab a stack of dessert plates and everyone gets a slice of Apricot Frangipane Tart. The room is quiet as we savor this sweet end to the meal. It’s a cakey tart with a baked almond batter and a buttery crust. The apricots are a surprise, hidden under the deep-brown caramelized surface. Discovered upon first bite, the tart and juicy fruit is a delight, a reminder that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.


10 Ways Tuesday: Apricot

Caramelized Apricots with Cardamom (c)2012

I’ve got creative recipes for cooking with apricots during summer:

1.  Caramelized Apricots

A few seconds under the broiler results in luscious, juicy apricots- unbelievably good! Cut apricots in half and remove the pits, then place on a baking sheet, cut sides up. Sprinkle with sugar and ground cardamom, then place under the broiler for a couple of minutes, just until the tops are caramelized. Brush the cooked apricots with a jam glaze (heat apricot jam in a saucepan for a minute until liquified). Serve the warm and juicy apricots as a summer dessert with whipped cream or crème fraîche or enjoy the apricots for breakfast with Greek yogurt and toasted nuts.

2.  Apricot Preserves

Rachel Saunders, author of The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook, writes, “Nothing quite matches the buttery flavor of a really perfect fresh apricot, and apricots make some of the most delectable preserves.” She includes a recipe for Royal Blenheim Apricot Jam, which uses as little sugar as possible to allow the apricot’s extraordinarily sumptuous flavor to shine. The kernels are removed from a few of the apricot pits and tossed into the jam, infusing it with a hint of almond. She also shares recipes for Apricot-Rose Jam and Apricot-Orange Marmalade.